Photochemical grid models are being used in technical analyses by the Visibility Improvement State and Tribal Association of the Southeast (VISTAS), a regional air quality planning organization in the southeastern United States, to support state implementation plans for regional haze and related air quality issues. VISTAS has embarked on a multi-phase process of testing and evaluating regional meteorological, emissions and air quality models that will be used to project visibility improvements as required by the regional haze rule. VISTAS has generated 2002 annual emissions and meteorological inputs for two photochemical grid models, the community multi-scale air quality (CMAQ) and the comprehensive air-quality model with extensions (CAMx), at a 36 km resolution for the continental US and at 12 km resolution for the eastern US. The two models were evaluated using speciated PM measurements from various monitoring networks and detailed analysis was performed for organic carbon (OC) mass using the IMPROVE, STN, and SEARCH networks. The differences in model performance between CMAQ and CAMx were used as a diagnostic tool to investigate performance issues for several compounds. CAMx performed substantially better than CMAQ for OC (defined as 1.4×measured organic carbon) which led to investigations into methods for improving the CMAQ OC model performance. The treatment of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) was identified as an area needing improvements in both models. The impact of replacing the CMAQ SOA parameters with those from CAMx was investigated. Further analysis identified several processes that are potentially important for SOA formation that are not treated in either model including, polymerization of the SOA into non-volatile particles and SOA formation from sesquiterpene, isoprene and other biogenic VOCs. A prototype mechanism for several of these missing processes was developed and the CMAQ SOA module was enhanced to include these SOA formation processes. SOA yields, specifically from biogenic emissions, were increased by the modified SOA module and CMAQ model performance for particulate OC at the IMPROVE, SEARCH, and STN sites in the VISTAS region was improved. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.